As I wait for the Fitzsimmons chairlift at the Whistler Bike Park, the village around me is teeming with life. The main walkways are filled with people from all around the world, and they steadily ebb and flow like ocean tides. This isn’t a typical crowd. I’m here at the bike park at perhaps its busiest time of year: the Crankworx mountain biking festival. The energy surrounding this event is incredible.
Whistler in fall should be on every mountain biker’s bucket list. Katie Lozancich photo.
This year it was estimated that a crowd of 35,000 gathered at the base to watch the festival’s signature event, Redbull Joyride. So, for a much-needed reprieve, I opt to ride the nearby XC trails. That’s right! Whistler has more than just it’s world-class lift serviced bike park. Unbeknownst to many is the dense network of XC trails that are easily accessible from the main village.
“The bike park is awesome, no doubt, but the trails outside of the bike park are, in my personal opinion, way better,” Enduro World Series (EWS) racer Alex Pavon tells me. “It’s less crowded, and I’m more into the slow speed, technical riding.”
Alex has been racing with the Juliana team since 2015, and last year joined up with the Juliana Free Agents, the first all-women’s enduro racing team. Through competition, she’s been able to explore incredible riding destinations all over North America. Every time she visits Whistler, one thing has stood out to her: the abundance of fantastic trails.
“I bet I’ve only ridden 5-10% of all the trails in the valley over the last four years. There are so many,” she says.
Pavon leads the way on Comfortably Numb over one of the many hand-built features you’ll find in the area. Katie Lozancich photo.
Today along with her teammate Porsha Murdock, our group pedals out to a set of more advanced trails on Blackcomb, a stone's throw from Whistler village. Browsing the trail on Trailforks, I notice it’s part of an even greater network of trails, and I get the sense that we’re barely even scraping the surface of the potential riding out here. We’re not even a few pedal strokes from the village when the crowds begin to dissipate. Once we’re in the forest, the only thing louder than our freehubs is the roaring waterfall that we weave by. The climb to the main descent is not for the faint of heart. Quintessentially Whistler, it’s made of up of endless root ladders and rock shelves. For Pavon, who aptly leads me through the technical gnar, it’s heaven.
“I love the steep, technical aspect of the trails in Whistler You can always find something to challenge - or scare - you a bit when you’re there,” she tells me after participating in the five grueling stages of the Crankworx Enduro.
When we reach the top, I can’t help but feel proud of my the human-powered accomplishment. And the view at 3,100 feet is stunning. From here you can make out the many coastal mountains and valley below. Once we catch our breath, the real fun begins. The reward for our climb is Comfortably Numb, one of the long and challenging singletrack descents you'll find in the valley.
Moving downhill, we weave in and out of the forest. When we reach a clearings, the singletrack trail disappears and in its place are enormous boulders. They’re called rock rolls, and it wouldn’t be Whistler without them. Mountain biking down the side of a giant slab of granite is a true Whistler experience. The Juliana team treats these features like dirt, and makes them look easy to conquer.
As we continue, we encounter no other riders on the trail. We’re immersed in a dense rainforest, where the singletrack slashes through the foliage and stands out from the deep green . Aside from rock rolls, we explore many wooden features and stream crossings before reaching the bottom. All in all, we descended 11 miles and 2,000 vertical feet.
Murdock approaches a cluster of roots on Microclimate. There is no shortage of roots and rocks on the advanced trails, and that’s what makes them so fun. Katie Lozancich photo.
We zip back to Blackcomb and refuel with some well-earned post ride brews from the Handlebar. As I down my beer and appetizers, I’m joined by Abby Cooper. Cooper is many things in one - a phenomenal photographer, writer, content strategist, splitboarder, and quite possibly one of the friendliest people I met on my journey. As a Whistler local, she became my point person for information about the zone. She’s called this place home for the past four years.
“I could go on and on about the terrain in Whistler, but what I love most about this place is the people,” she tells me. “The core community of Whistler shares a common thread, everyone here has chosen to live in a town where the mountains are your priority. It's a special bond and understanding that unifies the long-term residents.”
At its core, Whistler riding is about getting out and exploring the woods—and it doesn’t get any better than that. Katie Lozancich photo.
Before we part, Cooper emphasizes one key takeaway: “You need to come back for the other seasons,” she exclaims. Winter used to be her favorite, but as an avid mountain biker Fall has become her new love.
“It used to make me antsy just waiting for the snow, but now fall means I can bike in more comfortable temperatures on quieter trails. Pretty sure my pup likes it too,” she explains.
I imagine this biking mecca throughout in fall. All the world-class trails in blissful solitude. Cooler weather and the perfect temperatures for extended rides. Precipitation and the tacky hero dirt that comes after it. Fall takes the already stellar riding in Whistler to another level.
The trails are more fun with a friend—and who knows, since the environment is so welcoming you might just make a few new ones on the trail. Katie Lozancich photo.
“Biking in Whistler is like entering a massive buffet. You want to try everything, everything looks so tasty! All the options are there, and you just try and taste as much as you can everyday,” Cooper laughs while she explains. The buffet she speaks us will satisfy the mountain biker in all of us.
Are you a thrill seeker? Heli mountain biking with one of the local guided outfitters will get your adrenaline levels up. Or want to get your fix of type two fun? There are plenty of climbs like the sufferfest I had. I’d highly recommend the EWS transfer climb to Microclimate and Dark Crystal. It’s an agonizing gravel grind but the descents always make up for the effort. If you have a slacked bike with at least 160mm travel, the bike park is still the center of attention for a good reason. With the recent expansion of Creekside, there’s even more to explore. It’s practically impossible to do it all in a day.
And don’t leave the kids at home! I saw my share of six-year-olds on many of the lift serviced trails, and Lost Lake is a great area for groms to get their bearings. Lost Lake, a cluster of XC singletrack adjacent to the central bike park is a perfect place to work on progression. Plus, the lake serves as a great spot to cool off or kayak at the end of the day.
There’s so much more offered in the valley, you will have to come out and experience it for yourself. And the fall shoulder season - with it’s blaze of foliage and empty trails - may be the ideal time of year to check it out.